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June 2, 2024

Ryan Blaney after Gateway heartbreak: ‘It wasn’t meant to be’

MADISON, Ill. — The checkered flag was in sight. Reigning Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney was on the brink of punching his ticket to the playoffs in Sunday’s Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Coming to the white flag, Blaney’s No. 12 Ford began to slow off Turn 4. Blaney’s Team Penske teammate Austin Cindric shot to the inside of Blaney to take the lead. Cindric captured his second career Cup Series win, earning his first top-five finish on a non-superspeedway or road-course race.

MORE: Race results | Cindric steals win; race recap

Blaney limped around the track and was credited with a 24th-place finish, the final car on the lead lap.

“It quit running. Just a lap short,” Blaney said. “I thought we were plenty good. They must not have gotten it as full as they thought. I thought we were plenty good to go to the end and it wasn’t meant to be.”

After the final cycle of green-flag pit stops, Blaney was the first car on fresh tires. Christopher Bell elected to pit 18 laps after the No. 12 car and chased Blaney down after taking the lead with 19 laps remaining in the race.

The two Championship 4 drivers from last season had an epic battle for the lead until Bell had a mechanical issue. Blaney thought it was clear sailing to the finish line for his Ford team.

“That’s frustrating to drive your ass off to keep [Bell] behind you,” Blaney said. “I don’t know what happened to him, but you think you do a good job and drive your [expletive] off and feel like you weathered the storm of just trying to get it home and you run out. Proud of the day. It’s just one of those deals.”

RELATED: Watch final lap as Cindric swoops by

The No. 12 team knew it was playing it close on its fuel strategy, but never thought Blaney would run out of gas. Instead of being locked into the playoffs, Blaney remained 12th in the regular-season standings and was knocked down on the playoff grid due to Cindric’s victory.

“We knew we were close, but that was a little closer than we expected,” said Jonathan Hassler, crew chief of the No. 12 car. “Like everyone else, we were trying to be aggressive and put ourselves in position to win and you have those things.”

Ryan Blaney congratulates Austin Cindric in Victory Lane at Gateway.
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

Blaney finished third in each of the opening stages, minimizing the points lost. All three of Team Penske’s cars were a mainstay inside the top five throughout the 240-lap event.

And though it wasn’t Blaney who delivered Penske its first win of the season, he can take solace that one of the team’s cars won.

“It was a good day for our cars to run first, fifth and we were there in the top five,” Blaney said. “Proud of the effort, and I’m proud a Penske car won. I don’t think we were the fastest. Bell seemed like he shot out of a cannon. I don’t know where he came from, so battling him was tough.

“It just sucks we don’t end up with a finish that we deserve. I thought we did a good job all day doing what we needed to do. It’s a kick in the nuts but you move on past it.”

Dating back to Darlington, Blaney has three straight finishes outside the top 20. Blaney led 20 of the final 23 laps in Sunday’s contest and was set for his first top-five finish since the April 7 race at Martinsville Speedway. That would have been a much-needed uptick for the No. 12 group after consecutive DNFs at Darlington Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Really happy with our showing today,” Blaney told FOX Sports. “Just, I don’t know what I gotta do to get some luck on our side. Gosh, wrecked the last two points races and thought we had a great shot to win today, and it ended up bad. So, just appreciate the effort. Just gotta keep sticking with it.”